Sitting at your desk ready to make some calls and land some appointments but not sure who to call, general manager sounds important right? Wrong! If you are not calling the owner or someone with true authority then you are waisting your time and theirs. Sometimes these middle level employees are tasked with finding a product like the one you are selling so it is important to impress everyone you speak to but nonetheless they are still a gatekeeper.
Oh the dreaded gatekeeper, but this one is disguised as a Vice President or General Manager…? Yes, sure you have the traditional gatekeeper that is the receptionist or the Owners assistant but you also have another level of gatekeepers. Sometimes the first set, secretaries, will transfer you to the second layer, Vice President/Manager.
This second set of gatekeepers can be far worse than the first set as they do have some level of authority. The problem becomes that you do not know what level of authority they have. Often times in a company there are a lot of people that have the authority to tell you no but very few that have the authority to purchase or say yes. Two bad outcomes can occur when transferred to mid level management:
- They automatically tell you no
- They graciously have you in for a meeting, many meetings and string you along only to find out they can’t make the decision
Far too often when prospecting, sales personnel get put in the “friend zone”. They go out on sales calls quite often and are very like-able people but because they are visiting prospects so often the middle management actually becomes friends with them. Not to say they are taking advantage of you but ultimately if you don’t have a decision in 3 meetings they are probably not going to buy from you. Send them a birthday card or drop by once a quarter to keep the relationship alive in case something changes but until then don’t waste your time.
A few years ago I was prospecting this decent size account that my boss had worked on a few years prior. He warned me that the owner liked to talk and didn’t like to make decisions but as the cocky salesperson I was I figured it would be different. After about 6 months of driving out there, taking him to lunch, and bending over backwards to get his questions answered he finally agreed and signed the paperwork to offer our products. The only caveat came when I returned to do the install and introduce the new products, processes, and systems none of the employees knew that the decision had been made. It was introduced with much resistance (Because there was no owner buy in) and moving forward the sales team would quote both companies (My products and the competition) and sell whichever was cheaper. Safe to say that my commissions did not equal the time that I put into the account. Some prospects are just not worth it. But I digress.
Now it is tough to find out who the true buyer is because when you are working with a small company the Vice President may call all the shots but when calling on Morgan Stanley, where everyone who owns a suit gets a VP after their name, it becomes a bit more difficult. To find out who if person is a true buyer you have to use your sales reasoning to feel the buyer out as you are conversing and more importantly after a short initial pitch or fact finding meeting be sure to ask if anyone else needs to be involved in the final decision. This question is so valuable and far too many people fail to ask it. Who knows maybe the company has a silent partner that you have never heard of.
2 years ago I was called in to one of my accounts to do a “recap” on some material that we had gone over the month before. When I get to the account there is a gentleman there that I had never met, seemingly calling the shots (I had this account for 18 months at this time) and began to instruct me to perform a presentation. I stopped dead and said “excuse me sir who exactly are you?”. Well as it turns out he was the owner… nobody told me that the general manager (who I thought was the owner) had been given officer authority and was able to sign the documents. Always ask if there are any other decision makers involved as it is never fun to be blindsided.
When speaking with company personnel remember that there are many people inside that are able to say no to you but very few that are able to say yes. Do not waste time trying to get to the decision maker through the middle management. If you are confident in your abilities/products then you deserve to speak to the top. Conversely, if you are self conscious regarding your ability then you will think you are not worthy of speaking to the true buyer and next thing you know you are “friend zoned” by middle management, spending a fortune on lunches for commission that is likely never coming. Next time you are about to make a sales call and you are choosing between calling the General Manager and the owner, be confident and call the Owner.